Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

by Hilary Jeune, Oxfam’s EU Policy Advisor

Tomorrow, when the world’s governments meet at a special session of the UN to take stock of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and negotiate a blueprint for global development, my message to them will be that only by confronting inequality head-on will poverty be overcome.

The MDGs have been an important force for development progress over the last 13 years. They have rallied governments, donors, and civil society behind a common purpose and ambition, and inspired many successes.

The first goal, to halve extreme poverty, has been met. The fact that so many people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in such a short time is an achievement to celebrate. And it is far from the only achievement. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 41 per cent fewer mothers die in childbirth now than they did two decades ago. Deaths of children under five have been radically reduced in Rwanda, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger and Ethiopia. Efforts to combat diseases are paying off in lives saved. Globally, there has been a 25 per cent decrease of malaria deaths; in Africa, this figure is 33 per cent. These are achievements to celebrate.

This success has been the result of rapid progress in many countries where there has been stability and equitable growth.

Yet globally more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day and most of the MDGs are still off target. Progress has been slow or non-existent where there has been protracted conflict, or where growth has been highly inequitable.

Global poverty is declining but in country after country, inequality is on the increase. Billions of people are being left behind by economic growth. There is an emerging consensus that high levels of inequality are not just morally objectionable, but they are damaging for social stability and to growth itself.

These challenges must be met head-on. A plan for reducing inequality was a major omission in the original MDGs. Without targeted efforts to reduce gaps between rich and poor, the next set of global development goals is almost certain to be unachievable.

In the meantime, UN member states need to get back to work on the MDGs. Despite some progress, Europe, for example, is off track to meet its commitments by 2015. Far too many European governments are cutting back on their investment in human development (public health and education), in preference for big infrastructure projects and private sector development. Many are now focusing on post-2015 plans instead of accelerating action to attain the existing goals. Meanwhile, aid to the poorest countries is falling.

According to the latest OECD aid figures, aid from EU-15 fell for the second time in a row, with a €10 billion shortfall on their 2010 target of 0.51%. Aid as a share of national income fell from 0.44% last year to 0.42%, shattering even further their promise to give 0.7% of their national income to the poorest by 2015.

Western European countries are performing even worse than the global trend. The biggest cuts last year were made by Spain (- 49%) and Italy (- 34%), with Belgium and Ireland also significantly dropping their aid. Big economies like France and Germany, also cut their aid, with the latter not even reaching the average EU-15 aid level.

Europe and the rest of the international community need to take bold steps to ensure sufficient resources are invested to make the MDGs a success. As a start, rich countries must stick to their commitments on aid for development. They should also raise additional revenue by tackling the corporate tax evasion that is bleeding billions out of poor countries each year, and by introducing innovative financing mechanisms like a financial transactions tax (FTT). We hope that the 11 EU countries that have agreed to implement an FTT actually allocate a significant part of the revenues to fight poverty and climate change in poor countries.

Ending extreme poverty is possible. Now is the time to craft a new, fair deal for poor people across the world.

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  1. One of the most effective methods to improve everyone’s lot is to educate the female child; not only in literacy but to enable her to make good choices for her future and her family.

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